A worthy Descent successor and some more
MinerWars 2081 is a 6DOF space shooter heavily inspired by Descent, but quite a bit more ambicious in scale. The game takes place in the remains of our solar system, which after a large scale space accident got reduced into an astroid belt. The large astroids, which have space stations build in and around them, form the levels in the game, but unlike Descent one is not restricted to the inside of those astroids, but can fly around in open space as well.
While the game does have ambitions to be open-world'ish, they are at the current stage of development extremely restricted. Jumping freely around between different areas in the solar system is possible via a mothership that acts as start and end point for each mission, but as the game doesn't provide any side quests, so it is pretty meaningless to visit areas outside of the main plotline, aside from a visit or two to mine some minerals. The trade system that the game has also feels mostly redundant at this point, as while buying and selling is possible, none of the minerals give any useful amount of money in return and the rest of the loot in the game is just ammunition and health packs which are better used for their intended purpose then sold. Money is also rather hard to come buy, so a lot of the additional gear stays unavailable. The way the stores are placed is also a little weird, as they most often are in the mid of a heated battle, making a quick shopping trip feel rather out of place.
The game also has a rather detailed damage model, instead of just shields, the game splits things up into player health, armor, oxygen, hull damage and fuel. But as with the trading, it doesn't impact the game a whole lot. Armor is by far the most important stat, while player health only becomes relevant in a tiny few situation where there is radiation in the environment. Fuel is a bit of an annoyance, as is it's easy to run out of it, without a clear indication on how to get more. As it turns out, the engine in your ship can not only consume the rare and expensive fuel packs, but also a specific mineral and that mineral can be mined. Doing a short mining trip can provide enough fuel for the rest of the game.
The way the inventory works in the game is also a little confusing, all the health and repair packs one collects stay in the inventory, but they can't be used manually, instead the game automatically consumes them when the healths goes below 100%. This means your actually hearth is the value shown in the HUD plus however many health packs you have, but as the game doesn't show how many health packs you have, so your total health isn't easily visible.
On the control side the game gives the option to use either keyboard and mouse or a joystick. Unlike most other modern games, MinerWars does not provide any preconfiguration for the Xbox360 gamepad, but Getting a decent manual mapping for the Xbox360 controller is possible, with the exception of the menu and trade systems, which have to still have be controlled with the mouse. Once the controller is mapped the game controls quite well and fluidly.
On the story side MinerWars is suprisingly good. The game has constant communication and mission objectives that frequently change over the course of the mission, not just simple key collection as one might have seen in the first Descent. The story also goes across the whole solar system visiting plenty of interesting places and factions. All the characters in your crew get quite well established and the whole things as a Firefly-like vibe to, it's essentially a really good space adventure story.
Overall I had a blast with this game. The game certainly still showing signs of not yet being fully finished, but all the core elements already work quite well. The game is essentially the Descent I always wanted and never got, as Descent always fell a little short in one area or another, MinerWars one-ups the whole thing in scale and wraps it up in a quite entertaining story. While the detailed damage model is not of much consequence to the gameplay itself, it still does a great job as enhancing your immersion, as having your systems fail and blacking out from lack of oxygen is just a more interesting way to go then simply exploding. Having the ability to just dig through an asteroid is also a neat little feature. My biggest issue with the game, other then the whole not-yet-finished part, is probably that the enemies could have been a little more varied, as you end up fighting the same ships for most of the game, with little variation in weapons or size, but given the varied mission design and the great story, I didn't mind that to much.
The game takes around 14 hours to finish. I recommend playing on Easy due to the rather bumpy balancing in spots, the game does right now not allow you to switch the difficulty mid-game. Checkpoints are however plenty in the game.
PS: The game has a DirectX version that is substantially faster then the old XNA version, it can be accessed via the beta-tab in Steam. As Xbox360 configuration I recommend:
- left stick: movement
- right stick: turning
- lb/rb: up/down
- rt/lt: primary and secondary weapon
- left-stick-click: afterburner
- right-stick-click: auto-level
- dpad-left/right: roll
- back: show next objective
- start: show action menu
- A: use
- X/Y/B: weapn 3, 4, 5
- dpad-up/down: zoom